The shot is one-of-a-kind.
These are the steps my husband Jim took in order to get it:
1. He took us–me and our sons and daughters–to the other side of the world.
2. The World’s Most Interesting Man guided us to a tiny remote island; he happened to have scaled its cliff side three weeks earlier and noted that an incredibly rare species of bird was nesting and offspring were likely to hatch by the time we arrived.
3. Jim clambered as directed, to the windy edge of a cliff with a sheer drop to gorgeous green-blue water . . . and ragged volcanic rock.
4. He balanced facing the nest, built into a nook in the cliff, with his back to the open air and water, and peeked in on this rare Pacific bird as I shouted into the wind for my terminally ill husband to be careful.
He grinned back at me.
None of the rest of us was willing to teeter on that cliff with him, but I have noticed lately that perilous balancing acts have invaded my dreams.
I did my own actual photographic teetering yesterday, pulling over into a parking lot so as not to miss a sunset (always one-of-a-kind), and then realizing–to the amusement of strangers getting into their cars–that I needed to sprint up a knife’s edge of a hill in heels, being thwacked in the face by frozen branches, in order to get my shot.
I got my shot.
In recent dreams Jim did not have the better or best me–the one who has tried much harder to follow his example. No, he had the customary me of yore: cranky about small things, giving him a bit of a hard time about a missed appointment. In one of these dreams Jim also had to inhabit the post-Jim world: we were signing up to volunteer at a Children’s Museum (though we found it seemed to have moved to Canada, and now sported an outdoor sea adventure with a real whale; so much, thought my dream self, had changed since Jim entered treatment). For some reason the nice lady at the desk turned into an insurance company salesperson, trying to sell us some long-term deal and asking intrusive questions about what was wrong with Jim–was it his leg? She could still offer him a deal. He politely declined.
The pastiche of sensory snippets–and events and images which our waking selves never could see–makes each dream scene unique. In one, I walked inside to a yellow room that suddenly had sprouted a border of tiny forest-green leaves suspended evenly, like a window sconce, from the ceilings. I had to climb up high in order to pull down the vines, but underneath them were metallic eggs which my dream self knew contained some kind of unearthly, fast-growing and evil invasive creature.
No dream scene could be like anyone else’s, although my waking self can pick up on some rather obvious continuing themes.
Last night I tried to sleep without duly prescribed chemical assistance for the first time in many months. I thought I’d had a long enough day, complete with three hours of traffic on Route 128 out of Boston.
I ended up with another smorgasbord of nightmare images lifted from life and tugs from my subconscious. I had to traverse an unending sleek granite sheet suspended over a beach because one of my tasks was to inscribe (in carved calligraphy, no less) some sort of poetry on the edge. I had to scale a cliff leading down to a beach, in which the only step-holds appeared to be portions of petrified lavender squid heads with unseeing yellow-orange eyes. Worst of all, while all this was going on, I was separated from a party where all my friends were honoring someone I deeply loved, though somehow (in that REM way) I simultaneously could see what I was missing as I was alone out there, trying not to slip over the sparkling granite edge into the abyss. . . .Oh.
As Jim would have said, “You don’t have to be Dr. Joyce Brothers to figure that one out“–beginning with the party segment.
As winter and Jim’s symptoms broke out of control, Jim had the unique distinction of being the guest of honor both at the Best Final Birthday Party ever and a work gathering that was something like his own funeral.
The nature of Jim’s diagnosis and the inevitable and rapid progression of his disease offered some peculiar opportunities, which included–for family, colleagues, and friends– the opportunity to say goodbye. Never underestimate such an opportunity.
As a caretaker, I made plenty of mistakes, but I think one of the best things I did was to track down some of his old friends. Jim was immeasurably pleased to be able to reminisce and laugh with friends, to renew relationships. And people were able to tell him what he meant to them while he could hear it, right up until the moment he arrived at the metaphorical cliff’s edge and slipped peacefully to the other side.